Russian President Vladimir Putin has appointed Deputy Foreign Minister and ex-deputy defense minister Anatoly Antonov as Moscow’s new ambassador to the US amid ongoing diplomatic tensions between the two sides.
“According to the President’s decree, Anatoly Antonov is appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to the United States and the permanent observer of the Russian Federation at the Organization of American States in Washington,” read a statement on Russia’s official presidential website.
Antonov replaces Sergey Kislyak, a longstanding ambassador to the US who has been a main figure in the Washington-Moscow row on alleged Russian influence over the recent US presidential elections.
Kislyak is widely accused in mainstream US media reports of being a “spymaster” over having broad contacts with well-placed American officials, including those that ultimately emerged as cabinet members of President Donald Trump’s administration.
Antonov has been under Western sanctions in connection with his alleged involvement in the deployment of Russian troops to Ukraine in 2014, when he served as deputy defense minister.
Western press reports have described the 62-year-old Antonov as “a hardliner and no-nonsense negotiator,” pointing to his long career in diplomacy and his specialization in arms control.
The developments come amid a diplomatic standoff between Russia and US, which broke out last December, when the outgoing Washington administration expelled 35 Russian diplomats in retaliation for yet unsubstantiated Russian interference in the US electoral process.
Putin did not initially respond in kind back then, reportedly for having received signals that the incoming administration of President Donald Trump would be more favorable towards Russia.
Although Trump has continued speaking in favor of establishing better ties with Moscow, Washington’s anti-Russia political climate has rather led to a further round of sanctions against Moscow.
Moscow then finally responded to Washington’s expulsion of its diplomats as well as last month’s sanctions by giving the US until September 1 to reduce its diplomatic presence in the country to 455 people, forcing the Americans to lay off hundreds of local workers.
Meanwhile, the US ambassador to Russia, John Huntsman, is also due to arrive in Moscow in the coming weeks, where he will have to deal with running a vastly shrunk diplomatic mission.